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Tickers: December 3


The Iowa Leading Indicators Index fell to 105.6 in October from 105.9 in the previous month, marking the seventh straight month the index has declined, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue report. Over the past six months, the indicators index has fallen 2.4 percent. Two of the indicators tracked by the index – yield spread and new residential building permits – increased, while the stock market index, new orders index, average weekly manufacturing hours, unemployment insurance claims, diesel fuel consumption and agricultural futures price index declined.

The U.S. Labor Department reported today that productivity rose at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the third quarter, besting economists’ predictions. Another report on the economy found that the service sector, which includes hotels and retailers, shrank more than expected last month. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said that new orders, employment and prices hit the lowest levels on records dating to 1997.

Heartland Express Inc. announced today a regular quarterly cash dividend of 2 cents per share payable Dec. 23 to shareholders of record at close of business Dec. 12. The company will pay about $1.9 million on 94.6 million outstanding shares of common stock, the board of directors said in a news release. Heartland Express Inc. implemented a quarterly cash dividend program in the third quarter of 2003.

Workers and retirees plan to spend less on holiday gifts this year but will continue to sweeten their retirement accounts, according to research conducted for Principal Financial Group Inc. The Principal Well-Being Index found that both groups plan to cut back on holiday spending as well as other consumer purchases. The study found that 90 percent of workers have not reduced their contributions to or taken out loans from in their retirement accounts, while 11 percent have increased their retirement savings. In addition, workers and retirees are reducing media subscriptions, gym memberships and phone, television and lawn services. Harris Interactive conducted the survey of 1,179 workers and 625 retirees between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28.

Declining interest rates have led to a spike in home mortgage applications, the Mortgage Bankers Association said today. The association’s measure of mortgage loan application volume surged 112.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from the week earlier, CNNMoney.com reported. On an unadjusted basis, the index increased 51.4 percent from the previous week; it was down 21.9 percent from a year earlier. Results include an adjustment to account for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Mortgage Bankers Association said the average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 5.47 percent this week, down from 5.99 percent last week. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 5.13 percent from 5.78 percent, the report said. The rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage declined to 6.61 percent from 6.87 percent.

Constellation Energy Group Inc. said Tuesday it likely would have filed for bankruptcy protection had it not received an immediate $1 billion infusion from Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. as part of its $4.7 billion bid to buy Constellation, a wholesale power generator, the Associated Press reported. MidAmerican, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., announced in September that it would buy Constellation for $26.50 per share, plus the $1 billion investment. Constellation warned in a regulatory filing that if the deal with MidAmerican does not go through, it would need to issue 20 million shares, or 9.9 percent of its stock, to MidAmerican and pay MidAmerican $593 million in cash. It said the preferred stock that MidAmerican has bought with the $1 billion would be converted into 14 percent senior notes that would have to be repaid in a year.

President-elect Barack Obama pledged to work closely with the nation’s governors at a meeting of the National Governors Association Tuesday in Philadelphia. Read more.

Investment banker Morgan Stanley said in a regulatory filing Tuesday that it has boosted its stake in struggling mall operator General Growth Properties Inc. to 5.1 percent, the Chicago Tribune reported. In its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Morgan Stanley said it owned 13.6 million shares, representing a 5.1 percent holding, as of Nov. 24. That’s up from the 8.1 million shares it owned as of Sept. 30, according to earlier filings. General Growth operates Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines.

Principal Financial Group Inc. will host an investor conference on Dec. 10 from 7 a.m. Iowa time until about 11 a.m. Management will discuss company strategy, business operations, financial results and outlook, and other areas of interest to investors. A live video webcast, along with presentation materials, will be available on the company’s investor relations Web site at www.principal.com/investor. Go to the Web site 15 minutes prior to the start of the presentation to register and to download and install any necessary software. A replay of the event will be available from Dec. 11 through Dec. 18.

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